Precision scheduled railroading (PSR), also referred to as precision railroading, is a concept in freight railroad operations that arose in the 1990s. The concept is still popular among today’s Class I railroads as they apply it in efforts to transport goods faster and more efficiently. But PSR is far without flaws and concerns. For example, facts show that the practice leads to mass layoffs, increased injuries, and reduced worker safety.

What is PSR?

PSR was first introduced by Hunter Harrison in 1993. The goal of the concept is to transport the same amount of freight with fewer rail cars and locomotives using more streamlined operations. Some ways railroads try to achieve this goal are by:

  • Consolidating rail networks
  • Increasing train speeds
  • Operating longer trains (which increases capacity)
  • Achieving better fuel efficiency
  • Removing railcars from the fleet
  • Implementing more efficient technology
  • Reducing the size of employee payrolls

All of the above work to help reduce a railway’s operating ratio (OR). The OR represents how much a company needs to spend to make a dollar. For example, if a railway had an OR of 60, the company would make 40 cents for every 60 cents it spends. The metric is the most common one used to measure the success rate by a railway’s investors.

Proponents of precision railroading say that the concept not only benefits railways, but customers experience advantages from the strategy as well. Some of these include:

  • Improved service reliability
  • Faster rail service
  • Reduced costs with railway transportation

What are the Concerns Associated with PSR?

One of the main concerns with precision railroading is the detrimental effects that it is having on railroad workers and their safety. For example, mass layoffs are a central component of PSR operations. Less workers translates into a railway slashing costs and thus increasing profits. But the practice results in skilled workers losing their jobs and their source of income.

According to Dennis R. Pierce, president of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen: “While rail worker productivity has never been better and Class I railroads have been enjoying multi-billion-dollar profits over the years, employment levels have been headed in the other direction, with thousands of railroad employees furloughed.”

For those workers that remain with a job, railways are demanding them to perform work outside of their main responsibilities to cover the loss of workforce. They are having to perform this work in addition to fulfilling their regular duties. One result is a loss of morale. A more troubling consequence is an increase in worker fatigue, which only exposes workers to increased safety hazards. 

Further, furloughed workers means that less personnel are available to conduct safety inspections and repair damaged or outdated trains and equipment. Again, this means existing employees are being exposed to unnecessary safety risks. The railroad industry simply cannot drastically reduce manpower and expect that safety standards will not suffer as a consequence.

In addition to creating unemployed workers, PSR operations involve the use of longer and heavier trains to help increase efficiency. A recent report by the Governmental Accountability Office (GAO) found that the average train length has increased by approximately 25 percent since 2008, and carriers are regularly operating trains up to three miles long. A problem with this reality is that frontline workers are not receiving adequate training on how to safely operate these longer trains. A lack of training is yet one more safety risk generated by precision railroading practices.

Congressional Leaders Request Study on PSR Impacts

On May 12, 2021, two leaders in the U.S. Congress requested the GAO to conduct a study on the impact that precision railroading is having on railroad workers, safety, freight shippers, passenger railroads, and long-term management of the nation’s railroads. The two congressional members include:

  • Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure 
  • Donald M. Payne, Jr. (D-NJ), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Railroads

According to DeFazio, “PSR in practice means the bottom line drives the decisions… Longer trains, unhappy shippers, and a workforce pushed to do more with less is not a model to chase after – unless you’re on Wall Street. But we can’t let hedge fund managers write the rules of railroading.”

“Precision scheduled railroading is being used more and more throughout the rail industry,” said Payne, Jr. “But I am concerned that this strategy could come at the expense of worker safety and smart, long-term railroad management. We need more information about this practice to determine whether it is beneficial or harmful to our nation’s railroad system.”

Contact Rossi Vucinovich for Help 

Rossi Vucinovich PC stands 100 percent behind a thorough investigation into studying the impact that PSR is having on the railroad industry. We acknowledge the real concern that PSR is exposing rail workers to increased safety risks. We also hope that a GAO study will result in positive and effective changes for American railroads and those that work upon them. 

If you sustained a railroad injury, please contact our firm for help. Rossi Vucinovich PC has been helping railroad employees and their families recover from railroad injuries for over 50 years. We are dedicated to helping injured railroad workers obtain the benefits they need to treat their injuries, pay their bills, and continue supporting their families. Do yourself a favor and contact us today to get the legal help you deserve.